Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A Report to an Academy
"A Report to an Academy" ("Ein Bericht für eine Akademie") is a short story written by Franz Kafka in 1917 and originally published that year by Martin Buber, in the German monthly Der Jude, along with another of Kafka's stories, "Jackals and Arabs " ("Schakale und Araber"). Kafka allowed the stories to be published so long as Buber did not label them as "parables," a comment that can significantly affect how one reads the texts. Buber was pleased by the stories, and Kafka's friend, Max Brod, used this as evidence to attempt to dissuade Kafka from his harsh self-criticism and hesitancy in publishing. It appeared again in a 1919 collection titled A Country Doctor (Ein Landartz).
The narrator, speaking before a scientific conference, describes his former life as an ape. This leads to some fairly humorous comparisons between humans and other animals, and bitingly sarcastic observations of human society. His story begins in a West African jungle, in which a hunting expedition shoots and captures him. The ape gains the name "Red Peter" because of the large red scar on his face that he acquired from the gunshots. While caged on a ship headed to Europe, he develops the need to "find a way out," and sees no alternative but to become a man.
Five years after the transformation, the ape-turned-man has acquired fame telling his story (although not all of it entirely positive), despite the fact that as time goes on, his ability to recall his "apeness" continually fades. In fact, he remembers virtually nothing before turning human, and equates the memory of his own apeness with those of other people, since humans are descended from apes.
Although little critical analysis has been done on this story, it poses some interesting questions. Nicholas Murray briefly suggests in his 2004 biography of Kafka that the story is a satirization of Jews' assimilation into Western culture. While Kafka did in fact speak against this aspect of modern Jewry, and even criticized his usually intimidating father for it, the text suggests that the narrator is addressing much more comprehensive aspects of humanity and perhaps of nature in general. Similarly, due to Kafka's pseudo-socialist, pseudo-anarchist leanings, one could argue that Kafka is attacking the bourgeoisie conceits of celebrity-worship and humanity's domination over the natural world. But again, the complexity of Kafka's prose defies such reductionist interpretation.
For example, what is to be made of the explanation the narrator gives of his transformation, in which he emphasizes that his choice was not a desire for freedom but the need for "a way out"? The distinction between the two in the story is never clearly defined, although the narrator insists on it, and criticizes the importance humans place on the idea of freedom. The narrator points out that if he had desired freedom and escaped his cage, he probably would have been presented with two alternatives: be recaptured, or drown trying to escape the ship.
In speaking of a "a way out," the narrator may have been relating to a more deeply rooted problem of psychological enslavement and the limitations of human existence, which occur independent of external circumstances. In other words, the narrator needed to escape an ontological condition, not a physical cage.
Because the narrator does defy this condition, an existentialist perspective could be applied here, as the core of existentialist philosophy is "existence precedes essence"--meaning that one's nature is not fixed, and thus one has the freedom to "become" anything one wants to be. However, it must be remembered that Kafka never would have called himself an existentialist, and aside from his appreciation of Nietzsche and Søren Kierkegaard, had little interest in philosophy.
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